The adage “Rome wasn’t built in a day” rings true in the startup ecosystem. Ask any entrepreneur about their journey from idea to flourishing company, and they’re sure to offer up a list of individuals who helped them along the way.
The Rady School of Management startup community has been developing a network of successful entrepreneurs for more than 15 years, launching more than 180 student and alumni-led companies in its short lifespan. Although the network has always been happy to help those looking to get their companies up and running, the School recently created a new mentorship program designed to connect budding entrepreneurs with seasoned industry experts to foster creativity and provide the students with a strong support system throughout the early stages of their startups.
Developing Rady Innovators and Entrepreneurs (DRIvE) is a donor driven initiative born out of a gift from UC San Diego alumnus Mark Waxman (B.A. Economics ’70). The program began last year by collecting a community of both Rady and out-of-network professionals looking to share their skills and knowledge of various industries. Then, students participating in the StartR Rady accelerator were hand selected to join the mentorship program. Once the student participants and mentors were chosen, pairs were formed based on mutual interests and needs identified by the students.
“The mentors were extremely involved from the very beginning – they wanted to get as much information they could about the students and their companies to see how they could help,” said Karen Jensen, Entrepreneur Advocate at the Rady School. “Their investment in our students has been crucial to the continued development of several startups launched here at Rady.”
Once the matches are made, mentors and mentees stay in touch by connecting in person or on the phone to stay involved with the entrepreneurs throughout their journey. The DRIvE program also hosts quarterly Monday morning events that facilitate in-person interactions between mentors and mentees through workshops, pitch presentations and networking.
“We start by working with students to identify their needs and interests, then we match them with mentors who have experience in those fields,” Jensen said. “Each student can have up to three mentors with expertise in fields, such as finance, marketing and product development so the students have a strong network.”
The benefits of mentorship
The expectation for the program is for mentors to stay engaged for at least six months, but several mentor/mentee pairs have continued to stay involved after the official program is complete.
Mridu Sinha, co-founder of MelioLabs, participated in the initial cohort of the DRIvE program to take her microbial identification startup to the next level. MelioLabs created a microbial identification system that screens for newborns at risk for infection, making it easier to identify newborns who are at risk of sepsis – a condition that can be fatal for infants.
Sinha connected with June Chocheles, President of the Chocheles Consulting Group and Athena Foundation Board Member, who helped her learn the ropes of fundraising, marketing, branding and business scaling.
Due to the value of the program, she remains in contact with her mentor to this day. She credits the rapid success of her company to her mentor who has continued to support her throughout the development of her company.
“June has a lot of experience starting and running companies, so it has been a wonderful experience working with her,” she said. “
While the StartR Inclusion accelerator – formerly known as mystartupXX –helped initially launch MelioLabs, the DRIvE mentorship program has helped sustain and grow the startup.
“If you’re looking to take your company to the next level, the DRIvE program is a great way to help,” she said. “The mentors are extremely helpful and supportive and have the tools and experience you may not have yet. The strong Rady network connects you to a number of professionals who are willing and excited to help you.”
The next generation of innovators
The success of DRIvE has created a vast network of interested mentors eager to share their knowledge and skills with budding Rady entrepreneurs. The mentor network continues to grow to include more Rady alumni who know the potential Rady startup leaders have to offer.
“Entrepreneurship and innovation are essential aspects of the Rady School experience, and we’re doing whatever we can to expose our students to as many opportunities as possible,” Jensen said. “We’re so thrilled that students and mentors have been so actively engaged in the first DRIvE cohort, so we’re excited to continue to grow the program.”